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The nature of Pauline glossolalia and its early reception

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 April 2019

John-Christian Eurell*
Stockholm School of Theology, Åkeshovsvägen 29,


Glossolalia is a phenomenon that has perplexed biblical scholars for generations. This paper challenges the majority view that glossolalia in the New Testament refers to ecstatic utterances and argues that the only independent New Testament testimony of the phenomenon is found in 1 Corinthians.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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1 A (now rather dated) survey of the research available is Mills, Watson E. (ed.), Speaking in Tongues: A Guide to Research on Glossolalia (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1986)Google Scholar.

2 Dautzenberg, Gerhard, ‘Glossolalie’, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 11 (1981), pp. 225–46Google Scholar. Dautzengerg's article is, of course, not the first to propose such a solution, but summarises and establishes this as the result of the research undertaken on the issue in the decades preceding his article.

3 See Smith, Dwight Moody, ‘Glossolalia and Other Spiritual Gifts in a New Testament Perspective’, Interpretation 28 (1974), pp. 307–20Google Scholar. See also Currie, Stuart D., ‘Speaking in Tongues: Early Evidence Outside the New Testament Bearing on Γλώσσαις Λαλεῖν’, Interpretation 19 (1965), pp. 274–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 This could, of course, be an indication that significant keys to understanding the phenomenon could be found in the surrounding culture. However, such aspects go beyond the scope of this study, which focuses exclusively on what can be derived from the New Testament testimonies of glossolalia themselves.

5 As noted by Johanson, Paul does not quote any known version of the Bible here, but rather seems to use the source text to serve his own purposes. An interpretation from the context of Isaiah is therefore not to be preferred. Johanson, Bruce C., ‘Tongues, a Sign for Unbelievers? A Structural and Exegetical Study of I Corinthians XIV. 20–25’, New Testament Studies 25 (1979), pp. 180203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 The issue of glossolalia as a sign for non-believers has been much discussed (cf. the article by Johanson cited in n. 5).

7 See Stendahl, Krister, ‘Glossolalia – the New Testament Evidence’, in Paul among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), pp.109–24Google Scholar.

8 Cf. Pervo, Richard I., Dating Acts. Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2006)Google Scholar; and Backhaus, Knut, ‘Zur Datierung der Apostelgeschichte. Ein Ordnungsversuch im Chronologischen Chaos’, Zeitschrift für die neutestlamentliche Wissenschaft 108 (2017), pp. 212–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 See Walker, William O., ‘Acts and the Pauline Corpus Reconsidered’, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 24 (1985), pp. 323CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Maguerat, Daniel, Paul in Acts and Paul in his Letters (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013), p. 9Google Scholar; Pervo, Dating Acts, pp. 51–147.

10 Gundry, Robert H., ‘Ecstatic Utterance (N.E.B.)?’, Journal of Theological Studies 17 (1966), p. 300Google Scholar.

11 Betz, Otto, ‘Zungenreden und süßer Wein: Zur eschatologischen Exegese von Jesaja 28 in Qumran und im Neuen Testament’, in Jesus der Herr der Kirche: Aufsätze zur biblischen Theologie II (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990), p. 61Google Scholar.

12 Kelhoffer, James A., Miracle and Mission: The Authenciation of Missionaries and their Message in the Longer Ending of Mark (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), p. 475Google Scholar, dates the longer ending to 120–150 ce, suggesting that the earlier part of this range is more plausible.

13 See Mirecki, Paul Allan, ‘The Antithetic Saying in Mark 16:16: Formal and Redactional Features’, in Pearson, B. A. (ed.), The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), pp. 229–41Google Scholar; cf. Kelhoffer, Miracle and Mission, p. 196.

14 In this context, the parallel theme of surviving poisonous snakebites in Mark 16:18 and Acts 28:1–6 could be an indication of connections between the writer of the long ending and Pauline Christianity.

15 καθὼς καὶ πολλῶν ἀκούομεν ἀδελφῶν ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ προφητικὰ χαρίσματα ἐχόντων καὶ παντοδαπαῖς λαλούντων διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος γλώσσαις καὶ τὰ κρύφια τῶν ἀνθρώπων εἰς φανερὸν ἀγόντων ἐπὶ τῷ συμφέροντι καὶ τὰ μυστήρια τοῦ θεοῦ ἐκδιηγουμένων. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.7.6.